New classes to practice arthritis-friendly tai chi

Classes will be offered in several locations around the state

Senior centers around Alaska are beginning to offer the Tai Chi for Health Institute’s Tai Chi for Arthritis classes just in time for May’s Arthritis Awareness Month.

Created by Dr. Paul Lam, the Tai Chi for Health Institute’s 12 week program provides knowledge and exercises that are perfect for home, work or anyplace you need relief from arthritis-related pain.

“We’re very excited,” says Ali Young, certified Tai Chi for Arthritis instructor at Wasilla Senior Center. “We just got certified last month.”

Arthritis is the number one cause of disability in America, with nearly 30 million Americans suffering its effects, according to the Arthritis Foundation.

Alternative treatments like tai chi can:

• improve joint pain and stiffness

• improve balance and coordination to prevent falls

• uplift the spirit and provide a better sense of well being

• improve ability to complete daily tasks

• increase muscle strength and joint flexibility

Dr. Lam, in search of his own remedy for arthritis, found that even the most low impact tai chi practices could still be too rough for arthritis, so he created Tai Chi for Arthritis with the help of medical professionals and tai chi masters.

Gentler flow

Certain styles of tai chi, like the more complicated Chen style, switch from slow, soft movements to fast, hard movements that can be unsafe for people with arthritis. The arthritis-specific program was created to be a modification of tai chi’s newest practice, Sun style, which consists of agile steps and high stances, making it the easiest of the tai chi practices for older people to learn, says Dr. Lam.

In the arthritis-friendly modification, postures like “Wave Hands like Clouds” become softer and more compact, while more mainstream tai chi practice consists of larger and more open hand movements. Rather than incorporating kicks and low stances, the modified practice focuses on staying upright with footwork that easily flows from one side of the body to the other.

The subtle differences in postures, says Alexandra Roach, certified Tai Chi for Arthritis instructor, come from tai chi’s roots in traditional Chinese medicine.

“By aligning certain postures and positions with specific meridian points throughout the body, we’re able to let energy flow through in different ways,” says Roach. “Tai chi allows us to harness our internal energy and restore energy imbalances that come from being ill or stressed out, and the different positioning of the postures really focuses on targeting those areas that need the most pain relief.”  

In addition to classes opening in senior centers around the Mat-Su Valley, classes will also be offered in Chugiak, Eagle River, Anchorage, Juneau and Barrow.

For information, contact Alexandra Roach at or email her via